A self-proclaimed ‘House of Ruin’, there’s no getting around Charlatan in an article on Ghent bars. At times it seems the music café-cum-dance club on the Vlasmarkt square is the seed out of which all of the city’s nightlife has sprung. A movie has been inspired by the shenanigans going on in this place under the cover of dark – though Felix Van Groeninge eventually ended up filming Belgica in another bar close by, due to the impracticalities of shutting down the buzzing Vlasmarkt for filming. For over a quarter of a century, ‘De’ Charlatan has been programming a sea of diverse bands, attracting the most distinctive individuals – whose faces have a good shot at being blurry to you in the morning – and building the rowdiest reputation.
Vlasmarkt 6, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 224 24 57
Jenever galore in this unspeakably shabby brown bar that nonetheless holds a certain charm over Ghent and its inhabitants. Nearing his 70s, owner Pol, who, Oprah-wise, is only known by his first name, has been collecting and pouring hundreds of kinds of Dutch gin in his little establishment on the Groentenmarkt square for over 30 years. The smiley fellow makes about 50 of them himself, including an infamous pepper variant. Whatever you do, don’t ask for a beer, or god forbid a glass of wine.
Groentenmarkt 12, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 224 21 20
Finding Jigger’s in the Oudburg neighbourhood used to be tricky, but the established cocktail haven recently added an extra cosy ground floor bar and outdoor terrace to its downstairs speakeasy. The award-winning establishment is now much easier to spot, not to mention the fact that there are now more seats for visitors to give themselves over to the mercy of skilled bartenders who’ll gladly mix you a creative drink based on your likings. The changing menu revolves around the seasons, and apart from the spirits, a lot of the ingredients come straight from local farms. When in doubt or feeling adventurous, Jigger’s knowledgeable servers gladly offer advice. The new backyard terrace is an especially lovely place for summer evening chats; however, during the winter, making a reservation to secure your spot is a wise move. (Groups up to six people can call the day of between 4 and 9 PM, but bigger groups better mail ahead. After 9, it’s first come, first serve.)
Oudburg 16, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 335 70 25
From an eyeglass-wearing fox to an imposing mounted deer, De Alchemist is another gentlemanly option in the heart of Ghent. Young brother-sister duo Adrian and Emma inherited the pretty local bar with a view on the 12th-century fortress Castle of Counts from their father a couple of years ago. Black Hendrick’s bottles serving as candle holders on small wooden tables hint at several fine gin-and-tonic combinations on the menu. The atmosphere at this intimate place swings from genial to buoyant depending on the night.
Rekelingestraat 3, 9000 Ghent, Belgium +32 472 28 40 38
A golden oldie to many Gentenaars, Het Spijker on the Pensmarkt boasts one of Ghent’s most popular terraces. Inside it’s smokey, with an Old World interior that matches the 12th-century building’s status as a monument – the oldest on the Graslei. The former grain silo now stays open late, serving a pleasant mix of night owl locals and visitors.
Pensmarkt 3, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 329 44 40
Hotsy Totsy has jazz in its veins and it shows. The charming 20s interior of the corner café alone attests to an illustrious past: booths covered in lush fabrics, dimmed lights hanging low and lots of dark wood. It’s no wonder Flemish author Hugo Claus chose to introduce the world to his magnum opus The Sorrow of Belgium in this particularly atmospheric nook of Ghent. Today the artist café is still a go-to for long talks, poetry readings, live jazz, blues, and even swing parties on Sundays. Lazy evenings are well-spent playing pool or scrabble with friends.
Hoogstraat 1, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 224 20 12
Close as it is to KASK School of Arts, a lot of students and hipsters tend to flock to De Robot for a burger served with chips – the double cheese is a staple – a good Belgian beer or a roomeR (an aperitif and cocktail-suitable spirit made of elderflower). These tastebud treasures are consumed to a background of old rock ’n roll and blues. Owner Karen van San has filled her comfortable establishment with retro school furniture and a smattering of robots, and in the evenings it’s hoping for a spot on their special heated bench – a bit of modern technology suitable for such a popular robot.
Bijlokehof 1, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 335 60 14
Flood or no flood, NOAH is a great choice either way. The lunch and aperitif bar floats on one of Ghent’s idyllic canals and sports a contemporary style with lots of potted plants and communal tables. A splendid deck soaks up sun and provides panoramic sights while the hull has cozy seating nooks and filters in lots of light through authentic portholes. Live music and summer dance parties come around often, and late-night Titanic re-enactments are inevitable.
Handelsdokkaai 3, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 223 66 89
Lit by flickering candles and nothing else, Rococo is a remarkable little curiosity in the historic Patershol quarter. Lovebirds looking for the most romantic place in the city might have found it here, in Betty’s living room-style tavern where a fire licks the stones of the open hearth and friends of Betty’s seat themselves at the piano now and again. The characterful owner’s signature homemade drink, Liqueur d’Amour, is said to get passions flaring, something Betty is known to affirm by telling adventurous tales of her own.
As Ghent’s first tiki bar, The Drifter has gone all out. Bamboo furniture, Hawaiian leis, palm trees, kitschy tiki mugs in the form of ‘o’-mouthed faces or totems – the mandatory over-the-top décor is checked off. Even more importantly though, owner and mixologist Tom has observed enough of these California-originated watering holes to sidestep the mistakes made by the many tiki imposters out there. At The Drifter, drinks are carefully concocted with just the right quality rums and fresh juices to enhance those vacation daydreams.
Oudburg 47 , 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 474 74 44 26
De Geus van Gent
Its days as an exclusively bohemian headquarters are behind it, but its cluttered little tables and cozy sofas remain. Hidden down a quiet alley alongside the St. Peter’s Abbey, De Geus van Gent has a warm living-room draw to it. Ideal for long talks among liberals and philosophical discussions over a pint of one of 20 beers they serve straight from the tap, or for a spot of jazz on rainy Wednesday nights.
Kantienberg 9, 9000 Ghent, Belgium, +32 9 220 78 25